The 2021 college football season may have only recently come to a close, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start looking ahead to 2022! While the Cougars certainly have room for improvement, there is no denying that the team is returning plenty of talent, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
Still, getting to double-digit wins for the third straight season is going to be no easy task, with five P5 games, plus regional rivals Utah State and Boise State on the schedule.
Not all games on the 2022 schedule are created equal. The following have the biggest potential to make or break the 2022 BYU football season.
1. Notre Dame (Oct. 8)
When it comes to season-defining games, it won’t get any bigger than this in 2022.
Many Cougar fans have some justifiable angst about this being a neutral site game in Las Vegas rather than the return game in Provo that the Fighting Irish seem determined to never play. At this point, however, the fact that BYU is getting a game against Notre Dame at all is a minor miracle.
Sure, Notre Dame seems to be a perennially overrated team, always hyped up to be a national championship contender, and then never delivering. But there’s no denying the big name draw of the Fighting Irish, who finished ranked number eight in the final AP poll following a narrow loss to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl.
As usual, Notre Dame is already being touted as a potential top-10 team for 2022, with most starters on both sides of the ball returning. Notre Dame opens its season against Ohio State — if they pull off that win, expect the nationally televised game on NBC to be an even bigger opportunity for the Cougars.
2. Baylor (Sep. 10)
The home opener against Baylor gives BYU a chance to return the same type of hospitality the team received when it visited Waco in 2021 — a friendly, welcoming atmosphere off the field, and a loss on the field.
Aside from beating BYU, the Baylor Bears defeated four other ranked teams on their way to a Big 12 championship and a Sugar Bowl victory. While the team is expected to lose a fair amount of talent on both offense and defense, the projected return of four starting offensive linemen is sure to cause trouble for the Bears’ opponents.
While Baylor will undoubtedly be favored on paper, BYU’s home crowd can certainly become a factor — just look at the impact the crowd had in last year’s game against Arizona State.
Baylor will almost certainly be ranked to start the season, and BYU has good odds of being either ranked in the top 25 or finding itself just outside the rankings. A ranked-on-ranked matchup early in the season is sure to get a lot of attention, and will set the narrative for how people view the Cougars for the rest of the season.
3. Oregon (Sep. 17)
As has been the tradition in the Independence era, BYU starts with a fairly front-loaded schedule. The week after taking on the Baylor Bears at home, the Cougars hit the road to face the Oregon Ducks. Once again, an early-season game against a Pac-12 opponent can help shape the narrative for the entire season.
The Ducks started off the 2021 season as one of the hottest teams in the country, receiving a number three ranking in the College Football Playoff poll largely due to an upset victory over Ohio State. Of course, Oregon’s luster faded pretty quickly at the end of the season, losing two games to Utah by a combined score of 76-17, and then falling 47-32 against Oklahoma in the Alamo Bowl.
Despite the loss of defensive star Kayvon Thibodeaux, the Ducks are still expected to be a top 25 team in 2022 by returning a lot of talent and bringing in former Auburn quarterback Bo Nix as a key transfer.
The Ducks open the season against defending national champion Georgia. While a loss to the Bulldogs probably won’t be viewed as too big of a knock against Oregon, an upset win means that BYU could be facing a top ten or even top five team when they head to Eugene.
4. Boise State (Nov. 5)
Sure, games against Arkansas and Stanford may seem like a bigger deal than yet another game against a regional rival, but Boise State still remains one of the most important games on the 2022 schedule.
Like it or not, the Broncos have consistently been a tough foe for the Cougars, especially on the road. To date, the 2020 game is the only time the Cougars have won on the Smurf Turf, and even at home, the Cougars have only managed a 3-3 record.
Last year’s fumble-ridden matchup gave BYU its first loss of the season, which should certainly give the team plenty of motivation heading into the game. But what makes this year’s Boise State so important is its timing on the schedule.
Boise State will be the Cougars’ 10th straight game before their bye week. After the bye, BYU plays Dixie State, and then Stanford. Based on Stanford’s 2021 performance, neither game will give the Cougars much traction in the rankings. If a banged-up BYU squad loses to Boise State before the bye week, it could completely derail any national momentum the team would have gained earlier in the season.
Like 2021 before it, 2022 is poised to have some big-time opponents. If the Cougars manage to stay healthy and deliver the types of performances they did against Utah and Arizona State in the 2021 season, the coming year is sure to have plenty of memorable moments for Cougar fans.